Aidan Smith's TV week: After the Flood (ITV), Silent Witness (BBC1), Tell Me Lies (BBC1)

In contrast to the gloom experienced by most of us back at work at the start of a new year, ITV’s Head of Drama must be bouncing around network HQ right now.
Sophie Rundle in After the FloodSophie Rundle in After the Flood
Sophie Rundle in After the Flood

Straight off, 2024 begins with a drama which, for impact and a kick up the backside of government, hasn’t been seen since Cathy Come Home. Like that searing 1966 play about homelessness, Mr Bates vs the Post Office has become part of the national conversation in how it’s exposed institutional cruelty, with the public outrage forcing a change in the law.

Now, just a week later, with great swathes of the country having been under water, comes After the Flood. The six-parter is not centered around one of our real, alphabetised storms. It contains criticism of state ineffectiveness in preparing communities for rivers bursting their banks but after one episode this has yet to reach scandal dimensions to become the show’s main thrust, and may not ever do so. Nevertheless, Mick Ford’s series couldn’t be better timed.

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And you can’t help wondering what it must be like, if TVs are back working again in mopped-out Midlands homes, to watch quiet streets turn into raging torrents. And if you’re the true life hero who the other day in Birmingham saved a mother and child from a car submerged under a bridge, it must be surreal when After the Flood unwittingly stages a near identical rescue.

John Hannah and Emilia Fox in Silent Witness.John Hannah and Emilia Fox in Silent Witness.
John Hannah and Emilia Fox in Silent Witness.

Respect to the show’s special-effects team. Often on TV you can easily tell when a hose has been used to simulate a downpour but the water bill for the opening moments must have been huge.

Indeed there’s so much of the wet stuff that I half-expect telly anglers Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer to float past. Or Robert Shaw’s grizzled sea dog from Jaws or The Poseidon Adventure’s Angela Lansbury being likened to a 600lb swordfish before proving herself a slick swimmer.

“Ya had a lodda guts, lady.” That’s a line from Poseidon and Sophie Rundle’s PC Jo Marshall has a lodda guts, on the large side herself on account of being heavily pregnant but prepared to get waist deep in the effort to stop her Yorkshire town from sinking.

You’ll have noticed I’ve stopped looking for hard-hitting contemporaneousness in After the Flood and am seeking out comedy. That’s because the show, not turning to comedy itself, switches to a more routine police-based drama with the familiar scenario of a detective going it alone with a theory in defiance of the bosses (see the new Apple TV+ series Criminal Record for similar).

Grace Van Patten and Jackson White in Tell Me Lies.Grace Van Patten and Jackson White in Tell Me Lies.
Grace Van Patten and Jackson White in Tell Me Lies.

Maybe this was inevitable. All that water has to go somewhere. And check the title. What happens next? Regular readers will know I don’t like to blitz series, swallow up all available episodes like, well, the proverbial deluge. Someone says the flooding is “global whatsit gone whatsit”. Someone else complains about the absence of sandbags and sirens. Perhaps After the Flood will get more political - I hope it does - but meantime PC Marshall wants to play detective over a suspicious death. Sticking her oar in, as it were. And soon she’s in way too deep.

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Silent Witness (BBC1) has returned. Now normally I’d make a joke about how long the body slab epic has been going, perhaps how it must date from 3000 BC in Ancient Greece, which is where the word “autopsy” comes from. And the inference of my joke would be that the show is currently being re-commissioned from beyond the grave and that because no critical faculties are required to watch it, mortuaries can be included in the viewing figures.

This, though, would be grossly unfair. If my wife reads that I’ve gone ahead and made the joke anyway, she’ll kill me (and as a long-time devotee, know how to do it in such a way that would outwit forensics). But if these are to be among my final words then let me say that the two-parter Effective Range is a gripping start to series number 27. What a twist halfway through, and what an ending.

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As always, Emilia Fox is luminous as Dr Nikki Alexander and only an idiot would attempt a gag about how the pathologist must be snaffling the embalming fluid to mainline it. Only a bigger idiot would suggest that in their white coveralls, she and her team resemble a tribute act for wacky US post-punks Devo, minus the flower-pot headgear.

But Silent Witness can often be lifted above the routine by its guest stars and this mystery, which begins with the discovery of a corpse crouched at a church altar, benefits from fine turns from David Hannah and Josette Simon.

Simon is the DCI haunted by a serial killer’s spree from 20 years before which brought no arrest, and Hannah is Charles Beck, the pathologist who conducted the original post-mortems before his lawyer wife Zoe became the suspected fifth victim, her body never found.

Hannah is well remembered for his speech in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Here, by the side of a reservoir about to be dredged, he speaks beautifully about Zoe wondering how two people whose jobs had exposed them to so much that was bad in the world could ever put trust “in human connection, in love” - and how for that very reason he was able to persuade her they should at least give it a try.

Except … well, you’ll have to watch. And plaudits, too, to Leo Staar. As the prime suspect he’s glimpsed in old police interviews being chillingly charming, God complex to the fore.

In Tell Me Lies (BBC1) I keep wanting Kevin Bridges’ Chad Hogan to burst into the action. Chad was the comedian’s interpretation of a typical American campus frat-boy for a skit comparing teenage partying in the US with Bridges’ native Glasgow. The gag did for him what the one about bicycle parking did for Billy Connolly and Chad would be most welcome in this imported drama, his cries of “Yo, spring break!” puncturing the total self-absorption of these attractive but intensely annoying creatures.

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Grace Van Patten is Lucy, a fresher who quickly makes friends with Macy, Pippa and Bree. They’re sat on beds discussing the parties on offer from various boys. One is definitely out as it will probably be “kinda rapey”. Someone asks: “Rapey, how?” The answer comes back: “They rape people.”

At the chosen bash, presumably non-rapey, Lucy is chatted up by Steven who tells her “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is his favourite song. Looking like he’s never heard the Beatles in his life, he showers her with compliments before going off to sleep with his ex-girlfriend. What a guy.

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Then Macy is killed in a road accident. There’s a vigil for her. “Party after this?” is the suggestion. Oh yes. “We can still be sad and not go to bed.” A student who may have caused Macy’s crash is wracked with guilt. Steven, who wants to become a lawyer, urges him not to say anything. Again, what a guy.



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